Last Night: San Francisco Symphony Opening Gala

Categories: Last Night

San Francisco Symphony's Opening Gala
Davies Symphony Hall
September 3, 2008
Words and Photos by Jennifer Maerz

Better than: Watching Dynasty reruns

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The most recent entry on the hilarious honky-riffing blog, Stuff White People Like, was "Appearing to Enjoy Classical Music." The essay claimed that "though white people do not actually listen to classical music, they like to believe that they are the type of people who would enjoy it" and "After leaving the concert hall, white people will immediately begin telling everyone ... how they plan to 'go more often.' This is because white people see little to no value enjoying classical music without recognition from other white people."

At the Opening Gala for the San Francisco Symphony, all I could think about was the idea that White People Like the Symphony. Ironically I hadn't seen the new blog entry until I got home and started typing this up, but last night there were a lot of white folks with pouffy dresses and pouffy hair displaying for various photographers how much they loved classical music. And for the price of the grand gala tickets, I'm sure a lot of them really did like the stuff. But the scene surrounding the music was impossible to ignore: it was like Dynasty meets Cirque du Soleil, and the people watching was just as entertaining as the music itself.

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You could've hit hundreds of shows all summer and you'd never bump into a crowd primped and preened to the nines like these folks. The air carried the scent of old money (and, my date informed me, Gucci Rush perfume). But amongst all the bejeweled elders, a few cool looking couples gave the fascinating peacock parade a little extra style.

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Basically, the fancy folks get to Davies Symphony Hall early, chow on fancy food in a big old tent, walk out onto the purple carpet with their goodie bags, pose for the photographers (and possibly stroll down to look at City Hall, which was lit up all blue in the symphony's honor), and then move along to hold a flute of free champagne while they crush into an air kiss mosh pit of sorts in the Hall's lobbies.

And then, finally, they file into the Symphony Hall to fall asleep (which we caught one dapper older man doing; either that or he was really studying that program hard) or craning their necks to catch every animated move of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Thomas has a lot of animated moves.

Thomas twists around like a caricature of a conductor: his face contorts like he's just heard a hilarious joke in the middle of one song, or he'll stomp his feet excitedly to announce the start of another. From the opening "Star Spangled Banner" through music by Delibes, Bernstein (a classical Cliffs Notes of West Side Story), and Rachmaninoff, he had a different facial expression every time he turned around.

The best part of the performance, however, was pianist Yefim Bronfman. He was the rock star of the show as his fingers bounded around the keys during the Rachmaninoff pieces and his bottom bounced up from his bench, punctuating the strong points of the music (along with the restless combover flap of his hair that was instantly dislodged from the physicality of Bronfman's playing). Even Thomas looked restrained next to this man's bearish, sweaty, and very passionate presence. He helped earn those four or five rounds of standing ovations given to the symphony at the end.

The music was all over too soon, though, and it was back to the parade: the afterparty in the tent where the themes were blue, bubbles, and bad wedding music by a good cover band that actually had impressive chops, especially when it came to the Jackson's catalog.

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By midnight, all the free chocolates and sushi and other upscale finger food had been cleared, and the jeweled symphony patrons were signs of slowing down (the open bars were ghostlands). My last dance started before the afterparty started, though, and my symphony heels carried me past all the symphony loving white folks and on to the purple carpet home.

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